For the week commencing 19 May 2019
Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on 2 Timothy 2:14-26 – Dear Timothy… God approves
Our Term 2 series takes us through Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Here is the outline:
05 May … Do not be ashamed of Jesus 2 Tim 1:1-8
12 May … Jesus has destroyed death 2 Tim 1:9-18
19 May … be strong in Jesus’ grace 2 Tim 2:1-13
26 May … God approves 2 Tim 2:14-26
02 June … there will be terrible times 2 Tim 3:1-9
09 June … all Scripture is God-breathed 2 Tim 3:10-17
16 June … preach the word 2 Tim 4:1-8
23 June … the Lord stood at my side 2 Tim 4:9-22
DAY 1: Read 2 Timothy 2:14-15
(You may like to read this week’s passage – 2 Timothy 2:14-26 – in its entirety each day this week.)
Remember the headings in our Bibles aren’t part of Scripture, so you need to read the passage in its context. The passage begins with Keep reminding God’s people of these things. So we need to look back and be reminded ourselves of what ‘things’ Paul is talking about. In essence, ‘these things’ are the gospel and it’s impact. v8 – Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. People need to be taken back to the heart of the gospel – so they too will endure suffering and remain faithful to Jesus.
If people are taken back to the heart of the gospel and enduring faithfulness becomes their passion, then they won’t be as inclined to quarrel about words. Such quarrels were spawned by the false teachers. Similarly, believers today should avoid those who are self-absorbed, love to hear themselves talk, and are more interested in minor squabbles than in evangelising the lost or building up the church.
The focus for Timothy? Not infighting about things which don’t matter, but correctly handling the word of truth. Paul seeks to instil in Timothy a sense of urgency. Teaching God’s word is no task to be performed in a cavalier manner. Rather, it is a matter of supreme importance that calls for energetic focus and dogged commitment. The false teachers twist the Scriptures to fit their own theology; Timothy ought to model a proper use of God’s word. He is to correctly handle the word of truth, an image which in the Greek, conveys the notion of cutting straight, rather than crooked.
Note carefully, that Timothy is to present himself to God as ‘one approved’. Paul does not mean that Timothy is to work hard at winning God’s approval! He means Timothy is already approved and he is to be assured that he can stand before God that way and not be ashamed in any way.
And what might there be for us in all this? (1) we need to be reminded of the main thing, and keep the main thing the main thing. (2) if we do that, we will have less tendency to quarrel about words. And (3) we too are able to confidently stand before God as ‘approved’ – through what Jesus has done for us. We should rest and revel in that!
DAY 2: Read 2 Timothy 2:16-20
What happens when quarrelling about ‘words’ consumes you? When false teaching distracts you? When the main thing is no longer the main thing? Well – those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. False teaching results in ungodliness. Literally the phrase reads “progress more and more in ungodliness”. John Calvin’s simile is apt: indulging in vacuous speech is like a ‘deep whirlpool, from which there is no escape and into which men plunge deeper and deeper.’ (Calvin, 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus, 1556; repr Wheaton: Crossway 1998, p138.)
Note what happens – ungodliness results in teaching spreading like gangrene – not a pretty picture. As cancer slowly but surely eats away at a person’s body, the false teaching will sap the spiritual vitality of the church. Paul goes on to name two teachers who have departed from the truth – Hymenaeus and Philetus. Paul had earlier demanded that Hymenaeus be ‘handed over to Satan’ because he had rejected the faith, and thereby shipwrecked his faith (see 1 Timothy 1:18-20).
What is the nature of these people’s false teaching? The claim that the resurrection has already occurred. The false teachers may have distorted Paul’s teaching regarding our present experience of being risen with Christ. Asserting that believers experienced right now the full reality of Christ’s resurrection, the opponents may have proceeded to maintain that it therefore didn’t matter how they lived.
So Paul needs to be clear with Timothy – the foundation of truth bears two inscriptions: The Lord knows those who are his and Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness. The terms ‘solid foundation’, ‘stand firm’ and ‘seal’, all highlight the unshakeable nature of the truths of Scripture. Paul affirms that despite growing defections and the resulting disillusionment, God isn’t deceived – he has known who are his all along (see Numbers 16:5). Second, just as Israel in the wilderness needed to distance itself from rebellion, the Ephesian believers must separate from the false teachers (see Numbers 16:26). Truth and falsehood cannot permanently coexist.
Paul is saying “do not despair Christian!” The church will go marching on because God alone is sovereign, and he has a people for himself. He knows who his people are. False teaching will not ultimately devastate the church. God has a people he has chosen for himself and no false teacher will ultimately steal away the church of God. And second, while we cannot see the hearts of people, we can see the lives of believers. Those who claim to be believers will turn ‘turn away from wickedness’. So, both God setting his heart on people and God’s people bearing the fruit of a changed life, remind us that the church will endure! Christians should fear false teaching and run from false teaching, but they should not think the church would ever crumble, for no false teacher has that kind of power!
DAY 3: Read 2 Timothy 2:20-21
This is an unusual illustration. In your house, you have some implements or tools used for noble purposes – such as serving meals at a dinner party. You also have a toilet brush and broom. Timothy and all those desiring to be used by God, should aspire to be instruments for noble purposes. That requires a conscious setting of oneself apart to be used by God. Such people will be then made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. This should be the desire of every Christian: to be set apart exclusively for God’s purpose, to be useful for God’s service; and to be ready for whatever good work God wants them to do.
It’s been said that a Christian should be faithful, available and teachable. The image Paul employs in this passage, an instrument useful to the Master, requires that a person be wholly available to be used by the Master, which also entails prior purification and preparation. If we neglect the priority of being a clean vessel, we will forfeit the privilege of being used by God. The condition for usefulness is not skilfulness, but godliness.
What are you doing in your life now, to ensure you are faithful, available and teachable?
DAY 4: Read 2 Timothy 2:22-26
Paul now tells Timothy to flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. The word ‘flee’ is the word from which we get our word ‘fugitive’. We are to run away from youth’s passions. And the term ‘pursue’ is about running in the opposite way – toward something. So, while we are urged to flee certain things like idolatry, materialism, and sexual sin, we are not simply to say no to sin. We are also to say yes to God! We are to turn our minds away from sin and meditate on the person of Christ and our relationship with Christ. We must savour our Saviour! We must delight in Jesus’ finished work. And as we gaze on the glory of Jesus, we will grow in godliness and experience his peace.
Do you want to be useful to the Master? We must by God’s grace and through his power, pursue practical holiness.
In v23, Paul returns to quarrels. He seems to be alluding to foolish debates about speculations, myths and genealogies (see 1 Timothy 1:4, 1 Timothy 6:4, Titus 3:9). There will need to be serious debates in churches on matters of doctrine and church practice. However, what Paul seems to be referring to here, are matters which do not deserve time or energy. Senseless arguments only breed division and quarrelling. Timothy must not ignore such things, but rather, gently instruct his opponents. His aim is not to win arguments but win people over – especially to win people to repentance and a knowledge of the truth. This means that Paul is envisaging that those stirring up trouble, are not actually Christians! The real enemy therefore is not the false teachers, but the evil one who has taken them captive to do his will.
All of us must take this passage to heart – fleeing youthful passions and pursuing faith, love and peace! Is that you right now?
Resources: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Christ-centered Exposition Commentary) by David Platt
Commentary on 1-2 Timothy by Andreas J.Kostenberger, in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series